Fossil Fuel Industry Outspent Environmentalists and Renewables by 10:1 on Climate Lobbying, New Study Finds
By Itai Vardi
In a study published Wednesday in the journal Climatic Change, Drexel University sociologist Robert Brulle shows that between 2000 and 2016, lobbyists spent more than $2 billion trying to influence climate legislation in the U.S. Congress.
Analyzing data from lobbying reports made available on the website OpenSecrets.org, Brulle found that electric utilities spent the largest sums during this timeframe followed by the oil, gas and coal industries, and transportation sector, respectively. Overall, lobbying by corporate sectors involved in the production or use of fossil fuels overshadowed that of environmental organizations and the renewable energy sector by a ratio of approximately 10 to 1.
Brulle acknowledges that the leading spenders do not take monolithic approaches and at times lobby in support of climate legislation.
"Different corporations typically push for whatever positions are advantageous to their economic well-being," writes Brulle. He says that further research is required to parse out the effect of such variable lobbying positions on climate legislation.
Though climate lobbying only accounted for 3.9 percent of the total amount spent on legislative lobbying between 2000 to 2016, its rates fluctuated considerably. Early on, relatively little money—only about $50 million, or 2 percent of all lobbying—was spent trying to sway federal legislators' opinions during the years leading up to and including 2006.
But in the years that followed, climate lobbying expenditures shot up, reaching a high point of $362 million in 2009, which accounted for 9 percent of all lobbying that year alone. The next year, 2010, saw only a slight drop, before climate lobbying efforts plunged, eventually reaching about 3 percent of total lobbying after 2011.
Of course, 2009 marked the year that the House of Representatives narrowly passed the landmark climate legislation, the American Clean Energy and Security Act, also known as the Waxman-Markey bill. However, that effort died on the floor of the Senate just over a year later.
To explain these fluctuations, Brulle argues that climate lobbying grows as the potential to enact climate legislation increases. This is especially true when one party, that has campaigned on passing climate legislation, controls government—findings that have troubling implications for American democracy.
"What we have is a group of unelected lobbyists representing special interests negotiating with Congressional Representatives on climate legislation," Brulle told DeSmog via email. "The minimal representation of environmental groups means that arguments for climate action to protect the common interest will be marginal considerations. Instead, special interests dominate the conversation, all working for a particular advantage for their industry. The common good is not represented."
According to Brulle, this has important implications for the fate, outcome, and nature of future climate legislation, which is largely determined by intra-sector and inter-industry competition. He says that the activities of environmental and nonprofit organizations often constitute one-time, short-term mobilization efforts. This is a clear disadvantage, given the vast expenditures and continuous and established presence of professional lobbyists in DC.
"Lobbying is conducted away from the public eye. There is no open debate or refutation of viewpoints offered by professional lobbyists meeting in private with government officials," writes Brulle. "Control over the nature and flow of information to government decision-makers can be significantly altered by the lobbying process and creates a situation of systematically distorted communication."
Brulle told DeSmog his findings partially explain the lack of forceful action on the climate crisis in the U.S. "For over 30 years, the science of climate change has been well understood," he said. "But no meaningful action has been taken by the U.S. Lobbying by special interests has played a role in this outcome."
These #Corporations Have the Biggest Influence on #Climate Policy https://t.co/uY2lEONIQT @NRDC @ClimateReality @greenpeaceusa @foe_us @350— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1505238638.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
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